Sat, Nov 05, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Living in China’s expanding deserts

People on the edges of the country’s vast seas of sand are being displaced by climate change

By Josh Haner, Edward Wong, Derek Watkins and Jeremy White  /  NY Times News Service, in the Tengger Desert, China

But farming is also becoming more difficult. Huang Chunmei, who grew up in the town of Tonggunao’er and now farms there, said the water table was 2 meters below ground during her childhood, and “now, you have to dig 4 or 5 meters.”

Huang planted more than 200 trees on her own last spring, in the hope that they would help block sandstorms and hold back the sand.

“The soil is not as soft or good as it was before,” she said. “We use more fertilizer now.”

Huang and her husband have sent their 14-year-old daughter to a boarding school in a nearby city.

“I don’t want my girl to return,” she said. “The sand and wind make life tough here.”

About 17 percent of the population in Alxa League are ethnic Mongolians, whose lives and livelihoods have long been tied to the herding the government is trying to halt.

Mengkebuyin, 42, and his wife, Mandula, 41, grow corn and sunflowers, but their 200 sheep provide most of their income: They sell the meat to a hotel restaurant in a nearby city.

The sheep graze in the desert, where grass is growing scarce. They roam near his old family home, near the shores of a lake that dried up years ago. He would like to move to better pasture, but the government will not let him. Mengkebuyin and his wife maintain the old home but do not stay for long periods. They have moved to a village 5 miles away.

Mengkebuyin and Mandula have decided that they want their 16-year-old daughter to live and work in a city.

Four generations of Mengkebuyin’s family lived by the lake in a thriving community. But gradually, everyone left.

The desert has taken over.

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